BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarians displayed a mixture of disappointment and relief on Thursday after the government ended Budapest’s bid to host the 2024 summer Olympic Games in the face of growing popular opposition.
The Momentum movement, a new force in Hungarian politics, last week submitted a petition with 266,000 signatures demanding a local referendum on an event seen as symbolically important to Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Many in Budapest were vocal in their opposition.
“It would have been a gigantic overstretch,” 45-year-old Budapest teacher, Lajos Szanto, told Reuters.
“Now we can all calm down and look at the actual problems we have. Schools, hospitals, the usual perennial problems that someone ought to tackle at last. Then we can fool around with an Olympics. That’s the correct order.”
But for some, such as Denes Kemeny, who coached the Hungarian water polo team to three successive Olympic golds, the way the bid ended was a “very sad story”.
“Last fall the majority supported the bid and our chances were improving,” said Kemeny, one of the faces of the official Budapest 2024 campaign.
“We could have convinced the public for a plebiscite but the recent period ruined our chances... With unity it can work - but only with unity.”
Orban’s ruling right-wing populist Fidesz party laid the blame on opposition politicians who had voted in favour of the bid but then turned against it.
Fidesz party parliamentary group leader, Lajos Kosa, told news channel ATV that the petition was motivated by Momentum’s political ambitions and said the movement was “cowardly... using the plebiscite as an excuse to form a party”.
Student, Andrea Szalai, 23, agreed. “(Momentum) turned a great sporting opportunity into a political comedy with their petition. And then the government puts up no fight and backs out of it instead of campaigning to convince naysayers.”
Fidesz’s Kosa said whatever the outcome of a referendum, holding it so close to the September decision on the host city would have scuppered Budapest’s chances.
Government-friendly media echoed that thought with headlines like “We had a dream”, “The opposition smashed our Olympic dreams” and “Leftists once again betrayed the nation.”
Other media welcomed the news. The news website Index.hu wrote in an opinion piece that the decision was “the end of a nightmare driven by irrationality”.
Editing by Louise Ireland